Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Post-Thanksgiving Cocktail of Books and Cats and Other Fine Things

First, you get the Freaky, Big-Eyed Cat Photo because, frankly, I think this picture is hilarious:

That's our Miss Spooky, sitting on a dining table chair at Eldest Son's apartment in Memphis, where the entire family -- cat included -- spent Thanksgiving. Spooky does have gorgeous, big green eyes . . . but I think it's the angle that makes this photo look so wild. I took that shot with my phone camera.

From Turkeygate by Craig Medred -- I love the opening line of this article:

"Is this a strange country or what?"

After reading about people trampling each other for bargains (honestly, nothing is worth trampling a person, in my humble opinion), the availability of Christmas ornaments made from reindeer droppings, and a woman who blogs about nothing but Brian Williams' ties, I'm inclined to agree.

I hardly read a thing . . .

Thanksgiving was a reading wash, although I had one sleepless night during which I began to gobble up Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family, Compiled and Edited by Karen L. Clinard and Richard Russell. How's that for a mouthful of title? I am absolutely loving it. Cornelia Henry had a wonderful matter-of-fact journal writing style, so one minute you're reading about her sewing projects, the weather, what a great man she married (although a bit soft-hearted) or what kind of illnesses are going around the area and the next minute you're reading about which states have seceded from the Union, followed by a remark about a troublesome drunkard or the joys of motherhood. Cornelia's journals are a pleasant hodge-podge and the book itself is loads of fun because it includes scads of other info -- documents like the Old Mr. Henry's will and photos of the family, copies of advertisements from the time period (1861-1868), etc.

Also, because I apparently overloaded on sad reading material, I have begun to read an incredibly funny book called Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte, the story of how Tarte went from city-dwelling, pet-free life to country life with a startling menagerie. Ah, just the right amount of levity to get the squeaking, rusty brain cogs rotating, again.

We went to the Memphis Zoo and everyone became bored with my incessant photo-snapping, including the tigers:

Yawwwn. Finally, even God became dismayed and sent rain around the same time Eldest left to avoid going into a coma. I did try to warn him that I'm not fun to hang out with because I take a million photos, but nobody believes me till they experience the pain of standing around waiting for me to move on to the next exhibit.

Many thanks to Eldest and Girlfriend for the delicious meal and to Eldest's Girlfriend for allowing me to paw through her sack of used books. I came home with two books and she didn't get a thing, although I have a bag full that I would have brought along with me if we'd had just a tiny bit more room in the car. Note to S: Just ask if I mention anything you're dying to read.

Still reading:

Hurricane of Independence by Tony Williams - but I haven't touched it in a week. I hope to get back to it, tomorrow. Because the hurricane was tragic, this book was one of the two I felt that I needed to set aside for a few days, but I'm enjoying it.

Waiting for Daybreak by Kathryn Cushman - A very quick read, which I will probably finish tonight, Waiting for Daybreak tells the story of a pharmacist whose life was dramatically altered by a single error (this one's fiction). Now, working at a new job in her hometown and trying to help her parents pay for her mother's expensive experimental cancer treatment, Paige faces an entirely new set of dilemmas. I love Kathryn Cushman's writing style.

The Pages in Between by Erin Einhorn - Another I haven't touched in a week, but plan to get back to reading, very soon.

Grit for the Oyster - Still loving the uplifting messages in this book. Even though I'm not currently writing for publication, I've found that this book is very inspiring and I've finally begun to think, "Maybe I can get back to writing the way I used to." I highly recommend this book for Christian writers who need encouragement.

Hawk to Patrolman ratio:

Vicksburg to Memphis - 31 : 2
Memphis to Vicksburg - 34 : 0

Wow, not a single patrolman. I was shocked, especially given the weather on the drive home and the fact that a lot of people were driving with serious lead feet. Here's what we ran into on the return trip:

That's another phone photo. I'm just as obsessive with the phone camera as I am with the SLR. You should see my Pop Art (a photo of a soft drink cup with a straw jutting out to the side -- well, I think it's cool).

Off to bed with me. Nighty-night!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Flight to St. Antony by Tony Blackman and some mindless jabber that will undoubtedly raise your IQ

Flight to St. Antony by Tony Blackman
Copyright 2008
Blackman Associates - Fiction/Mystery
303 pages

What led you to pick up this book? I like to read the occasional mystery (the more unusual or humorous, the better) and I love airplanes.

Describe the book without giving anything away. When a twin-engined passenger plane is forced to ditch within miles of a runway on the Caribbean island of St. Antony, aviation expert Peter Talbert is sent to investigate. Immediately, things become complicated as the crash recorder disappears, the presence of a drug lord on the plane is unearthed and survivors describe chaos in the business section not long before the crash. Peter must untangle the series of events that led to catastrophe while dodging drug runners, evading a murderer and falling in love with a survivor.

What did you like most about the book? This is not meant to sound bad, but my favorite part was the prologue -- the scene in which the stewardesses urgently prepare for ditching and then must work quickly to save as many lives as possible before the plane goes underwater. It's a nice, taut scene -- perfectly rendered, in my humble opinion. I read it while waiting for my son at school and didn't even notice his arrival at the car until I heard him open the trunk to put his backpack away.

Is there anything you didn't like about the book? I thought the writing was a little flat. There were moments of excitement throughout the book, but none had the intensity level of the ditching scene.

What did you think of the characters? Peter is a sharply intelligent, observant man. I liked trying to follow his train of thought, although I didn't always succeed. The book is fairly technical and his logic or conclusions sometimes evaded me. One thing that threw me was the fact that he often called people rude for mentioning that they've been warned that Peter is very direct. The author is British, so maybe mine is an American prejudice but I've never considered it rude for someone to say, "I've been told you're inquisitive," or, something of that nature. In fact, I consider it a bit of a compliment when anyone notices I exist. Otherwise, I thought Peter was an interesting character and I liked Helen, the flight attendant, as well. I thought they were a little needlessly gushy, calling each other, "My love" or "My dear," after only a day or two.

There is, in fact, a huge cast of characters and I was particularly grateful that the author added a "Dramatis Personae" at the beginning of the book. If the reader forgets a character's job title or can't place him, it's easy enough to flip back for a reminder.

Also: There's a list of acronyms and definitions at the front of the book.

In general: I liked the book, but I felt that it was lacking spark -- possibly because the dialogue seemed stiff to me. This is the author's 6th book (the 5th mystery; one of his books is non-fiction about his experiences as a Vulcan test pilot), but the first that I've read. Peter Talbert is a continuing character and I wondered if his character may have been fleshed out a bit better in previous installments.

Recommended? Yes, with a minor warning: The denouement is very sad. Once Peter uncovers the truth and discovers what happened on the airplane, it's hard reading. You can't help but imagine what it must be like for someone to really experience such a horrifying end. Otherwise, besides the fact that the writing is a little bland (if you're a lover of beautiful sentences, this is not the book for you), I thought the mystery was excellent and I enjoyed the way Peter slowly dug up the truth. I'd particularly recommend this book for people who love mysteries and find aviation fascinating.

Cover thoughts: I love airplanes, so just about all covers featuring an airplane appeal to me. I love the sunset and seascape in this one. It's very fitting, as the ditching of the plane takes place at night, near an island.

On this day in Bookfool's Reading History:

In 1997, I was reading Double Deuce by Robert Parker.
In 2005, I'd just completed The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble.
In 2006, I finished Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper

We're busy getting ready for the holiday and I'll be shutting down for a few days. I hope to resume posting on Sunday and Wahoo! Wednesday will return next week.

New running joke in Bookfool's House -- or, What My Blog and Holiday Inn Have in Common:

With Lisa's help, I set myself up for Google Alerts because I have not always received notice when people link up to me for memes and awards, etc. I've found email alerts extraordinarily handy, thus far, especially given my scattered nature. This weekend I had an interesting surprise when I received a Google Alert that led me to this site: 100 Blogs that will make you smarter. Page down to see my blog listed at #80, the 10th blog in the "literature" category. According to the Indiana University Press Blog, Alisa Miller of Online Universities compiled the list. Thank you, Alisa!

Getting sociable -- and accidentally letting you know what I looked like 4 years ago:

How have I managed to squeak by without a membership in the Book Blogs social network? I have no idea, but I've recently joined and have been sending out friend requests to bloggers whose icons I recognize. I'm signed up under my actual name, Nancy, as opposed to the usual Bookfool moniker. And, I've even loaded a photo to this one! Unfortunately, I'm not quite that thin, anymore. You can visit me, add me as a friend, gawk at the photo or dump books upon my blonde crown, here.

And on that note . . . there are 34 recognized definitions for the noun "crown" and 10 verbs listed at infoplease. If you have a diamond-encrusted noun version that you're tired of looking at and would like to give me, I'll be glad to take it off your hands. But, it's going to look kind of funny when I wear it to rake the lawn.

Wishes for a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving to the Americans!

Bookfool, off to do some critical Pre-Thanksgiving Laundry

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Album of the Damned by Paul Garson

Album of the Damned:
Snapshots from the Third Reich
By Paul Garson
Copyright 2008
Academy Chicago Publishers/NF - History
408 pages, incl. bibliography and timeline

Album of the Damned is a glossy, beautiful picture book printed on quality paper that smells glorious when you turn its pages. But, it’s not your everyday coffee-table book. The cover of Album of the Damned is enough to stop you in your tracks. A baby wearing the hat of a Nazi officer? That’s the kind of image of Nazi Germany we’re not accustomed to seeing. The most common photos are stark, formal, horrifying -- scenes in which the Germans are obviously the evil overlords, herding Jewish prisoners like cattle at gunpoint or standing stiffly over skeletal prisoners.

Album of the Damned contains a few of the traditional images, but it’s not the typical, cold and formal photograph that is Paul Garson’s focus. Instead, he shows the opposite, the playful, smiling, human side of life as a Nazi. Open the book and the first photo you’ll see is a grinning, dimpled man in Nazi uniform and greatcoat, reaching out as if to shake the photographer’s hand, block the lens or make a thumbs-up gesture. Behind him stands another Nazi with a curious look, a third saluting and smiling. Below the photo, the author’s words: “Welcome to the Third Reich”. A quote by Christopher Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland reminds the reader that, “Explaining is not excusing . . .”

The 400 photographs in Album of the Damned are merely a small selection of the many photos Garson has collected. Most came from private photo albums and were taken by both soldiers and civilians. They were purchased by the author after he developed a private obsession that led him to collect entire albums, individual photos, personal letters, documents and newsreels. An extensive bibliography at the end of the book gives you an idea how much time and research went into the writing of Album’s text, which sometimes describes the photos but also leads the reader through the process of the growing Nazi mentality and its results -- begun by a few radicals, eventually to take over the minds and hearts of most Germans and those in many in other European nations. A few of the photos are professional photographs, but the vast majority are casual, informal photos of friends and family.

And, it’s that informality that leaves the reader stunned. Text describes how those relaxed happy people spent their working hours -- rounding up people considered inferior or dangerous in some way, guarding them as they were worked at slave labor on only 350 calories worth of food, lining them up against the wall and shooting them or leading them to gas chambers . . . then, going home to play with the kids or gathering for drinks and laughs. It’s that contrast between smiling faces in bathing suits or at sumptuous tables compared with the harsh reality of their murderous daily lives that shocks.

The book contains a timeline and is then divided into four parts, with an introductory section, “In the Beginning,” followed by “Part One: The Homefront”, “Part Two: Prelude to War” and “Part Three: The Battlefront”. The author adds a disclaimer reminding readers that the “accompanying text makes no claims at covering the subject matter in any complete manner” and that he “chose photos that ‘spoke’ to me and let them lead me where they would.” His interpretation of a few specific photos didn’t necessarily jibe with my own, but I understood his drift. The author’s objective was to show, through those photographs, how ordinary people can be indoctrinated into dangerous beliefs of superiority.

Through carefully written text and the chosen photos, Garson leads the reader to a deeper understanding of life as a Nazi and how all-encompassing the Nazi world became. A photo of a pre-Nazi children’s club is shown, followed by photos of boys in the Hitler Youth and young girls in the League of German Girls. A sample from a young girl’s letter shows how completely she was immersed in the thought that Jews were sub-human. Nazis are shown alternately cuddling animals and shooting them or horsing around with them. In one photo, two Nazis stand by as a man is attacked by their dogs.

Among my favorites:

--A photo of a happy young couple at their wedding, swastikas hanging over the altar behind them.

--A pair of portraits of a middle-aged couple. In the top photo, a wife stands behind a small balcony table, smiling as her husband intently reads Mein Kampf. In the bottom photo, the same couple at the same table, she pouring tea for her husband, who is now dressed in a Nazi uniform.

--Two photos of a tree stump with a hidden door carved into its side. In the first photo, a Nazi enters the door; in the second, the door is closed and one realizes the ingenuity and horror of this hidden sniper look-out.

The photos gradually become more graphic and disarming. Album of the Damned is not the kind of book you leave out where young children can flip through it. But, it’s the sort of book we all need to read -- a stark reminder of how easily people can become swayed into believing that one race or religion is superior to another, a memo to humans that evil may begin as a tiny germ and grow into a plague, a note to look about us and see that we haven’t necessarily learned the lesson the Nazis taught us.

This review will be posted in the December issue of Estella's Revenge. The book is so powerful and moving that I asked the editors if they minded if I cross-posted to my blog. I personally believe it deserves a great deal of exposure.

Monday, November 24, 2008

For the Love of St. Nick by Garasamo Maccagnone

For the Love of St. Nick by Garasamo Maccagnone
Copyright 2008
Booksurge Fiction
44 pages

As if it were arranged, the Pastor of the Church, a Monsignor Sadowski, escorted our group of six men up the twenty-eight steps to the kneelers beneath the crucifix. "Boys. There's seven tons of Jesus up on that redwood." I recall the Monsignor saying. All the men glanced upward.

For the Love of St. Nick tells the story of Tiger and Johnny, two little boys who pray to St. Nick for the safe return of their father from a secret mission during the Vietnam War. Johnny is the sickly and weak child whose mother died giving birth to him. Older brother Tiger has seen his brother ill with high fevers so many times that he knows how to give little Johnny an alcohol bath, if necessary. A woman by the name of Mrs. Pennington takes care of them.

Before their father (whom they refer to as "the commander") leaves for his mission, the two boys and the commander's pilot buddies spend a day in the woods choosing a Christmas tree, playing a joke on one of the men, eating hotdogs and making snow angels. That was my favorite portion of the book. A friend and fellow pilot promises to buzz the boys' cabin to let them know the commander has safely returned when the mission is over.

At 44 pages, this is a quick Christmas novella with a little bit of magic. It could stand some editing, but the story itself is touching and sweet and just a bit scary, as the boys are left briefly without their caregiver and Johnny almost immediately develops a high fever. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it has an uplifting ending. While not the most brilliantly written story, I enjoyed it and think it's worth hanging onto for an annual reread. A part of me would rather frame it. Love that cover.

I was a little perplexed about the book's target audience, so I mulled for a couple of days. It has a beautiful cover that looks like it belongs on a children's book, but I think it's really for adults -- a tale of Christmas with a bit of nostalgia thrown in. The family is Catholic and prays to St. Nick, which struck me as rather odd but didn't offend me. I'd just forgotten that Catholics pray to Saints. I'm going to give this one a numerical rating, simply because I'm not sure I'm describing it well enough:

3.5/5 - A nice, nostalgic Christmas read.

Up next will be a review of Flight to St. Antony, which I've still not completed. We had a very busy, productive weekend of purging and shifting furniture and boxes. But, by the end of the day I was pretty much too tired to crack a book open.

The one story I managed to get around to: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, a short story I consider a timeless Christmas classic. Here's the first paragraph:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

I think The Gift of the Magi -- a story of two people who give up their most important possessions, only to find the usefulness of each carefully chosen gift lost because of the other's sacrifice -- never loses its depth of meaning and is particularly relevant during a time of hardship for many. Not meaning to compare this to the book above, by the way -- it just hit me that I really appreciate this story, at the moment.

We didn't go anywhere, this weekend, so you get an older photo. Can anyone identify this bird, for me? I can't find my bird identification guide, at the moment.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kreativ Blogger Award, Bookworm Award Meme and Four Things Meme

Memes, awards, taggings. I confess; they're not my forte. They're a bit like that sock basket that lurks in the corner -- the kind of thing I convince myself I'll tackle later, even though I really love warm feet (and taggings are a warm fuzzy).

Thanks to all who tagged me for the following awards/memes, especially for showing remarkable patience! Also, please forgive me if I neglect to mention it if you tagged me for one of these because I just finally figured out a good way to keep track of all those taggings -- up till now, I've been relying on my faulty memory.

I was tagged for the Kreativ Blogger Award by Tara, Heather and Jenclair:

7 things I did before:
1. Read (always)
2. Played four musical instruments
3. Painted in oil and acrylic and sketched
4. Ran regularly
5. Wrote long, heavily-anecdotal letters (the kind you mail with stamps)
6. Traveled to Colorado on vacation every 2 years (pre-marriage)
7. Wrote fiction daily

7 things I do now:
1. Read (yeah, always)
2. Blog, blog, blog
3. Make bookmarks
4. Feed, clean up after the cat and two guys
5. Photograph birds
6. Photograph lizards
7. Photograph anything and everything else I see

7 things I want to do:
1. Go back to school to get that Master's degree
2. Get paid to do something I'm good at
3. Take more risks
4. Summon up the courage to occasionally call my sister
5. Follow up the Master's degree with a doctorate
6. Travel to Australia, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, New Zealand . . . I could go on
7. Return to hanging out with actual, three-dimensional humans on occasion

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex:
1. Sense of humor
2. Intelligence
3. The ability to listen (poor hubby really needs this ability -- actually, what he's good at is ignoring all that mindless chatter)
4. Honesty
5. Ability to think independently
6. Love of life
7. I have a thing for brown eyes and a nice smile

7 Favorite Foods:
1. spaghetti with caper sauce
2. cheese ramekins (a souffle) with asparagus
3. grilled cheese & tomato sandwiches
4. steamed vegetables of any kind with corn bread
5. thick, melty Mexican dishes (without meat)
6. pasta salad
7. veggie pizza

7 things I Say Most Often:
1. I beg your pardon?
2. Wahoo!
3. Come on, Kitty. Time to come inside. Please. Come on, Kitty. Spooky, get your butt in here!
4. Love you!
5. Drive carefully!
6. What kind of homework have you got, tonight?
7. What else can we get rid of?

I was tagged for the Bookworm Award meme by Heather and Teddy Rose:

The rules: Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following.

The following quote is taken from A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky:

I had spent all of college in the dormitories subsisting on the horrid purple-flavored yogurt that was their sop to the vegetarians, and during the vacation breaks when I had stayed in the dorm, my forays into preparing food on my own had consisted of going to the local grocery to buy purple-flavored yogurt. I was living on rice and beans and cabbage in camp, occasionally even managing to cook them adequately. I hadn't a clue what to do with the zebra leg.

Pretty intriguing, eh?

And, I was tagged for the Four Things Meme by Care, whom I could have sworn tagged me for another of those awards (if so, I can't locate the post):

I'm having a spacing problem with this one, so you get The Joy of Commas, as well.

Four Jobs I’ve Had:
Accountant, Bookstore Clerk, Waitress, Humor Columnist

Four Movies I Can Watch Many Times:
Ladyhawke, About a Boy, Sense & Sensibility, Galaxy Quest

Four Places I’ve Lived:
Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan

Four TV Shows I Love(d):
Emergency!, House, M.D., Firefly, Northern Exposure

Four Places I’ve Vacationed:
England, Hawaii, Alaska, Maine

Four Novels (or series) I have enjoyed rereading:
The Count of Monte Cristo, Desiree, The Maltese Falcon, A Little Princess

Four Websites I Visit Often: Animus3, Other blogs, Google Reader, Blackle

Four Places I'd rather be right now: Australia, Italy, Wales, Hawaii . . . but, really, I'm fine right here, at the moment

Feel free to tag yourself, if you've missed any of these and want to play along!!

I have to go soak, now. I'm not human if I don't get my bath. Nighty night, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bookishly Speaking

I know . . . this is supposed to be a book blog. I should occasionally mention books, right? Here's what I've recently finished and am currently reading:

Just finished:

Album of the Damned by Paul Garson -

That's Album of the Damned by Paul Garson - sorry about the funky blogger spacing dysfunction - A coffee-table sized picture book (with plenty of very informative text) that shows Nazis in their daily lives -- smiling, laughing, horsing around, the kids wearing military uniform bits, etc. I'll be reviewing this one for Estella's Revenge and will post a link when it's available.

For the Love of St. Nick by Garasamo Maccagnone - A very short Christmas story about two little boys who pray for the safe return of their father from a secret mission during the Vietnam War. I need to check and see to whom this book is directed (adults? children?) because I couldn't get a grip on that, but I loved the story and plan to review it ASAP.

Now reading:

Flight to St. Antony by Tony Blackman - An aviation mystery set on an island in the Caribbean. The hero is an insurance investigator who has been sent to determine the reason a plane was forced to ditch just miles from the airport in St. Antony. At this point, the Cockpit Voice Recorder has mysteriously disappeared. I'm really enjoying this, so far. The dialogue is a little flat, but the mystery is so interesting that it's still mesmerizing. I set it aside for a few days, so I'm only about 1/3 of the way through -- hoping to finish, this weekend.

Hurricane of Independence: The Untold Story of the Deadly Storm at the Deciding Moment of the American Revolution by Tony Williams - Not too far into this one, but I'm finding that at times I'm engrossed and at other times he totally loses me and I have to reread a few paragraphs to unravel details.

The Pages in Between by Erin Einhorn - The author's tale of her search to unravel her mother's history as a small Jewish child who was sheltered in Poland during WWII. This is particularly relevant to me because I just read Album of the Damned and have been recently reminded of how few Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. I'm not far into this one, but the first chapter had me all choked up. It's emotional.

Just walked in the door, today:

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Sharon Lathan - Another Pride & Prejudice spin-off. This will be my second. The first was such fun that I'm doing some serious finger-crossing that I'll be able to handle a completely different version of "The Darcys, after the wedding."

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Bookfool, who will be very busy cleaning and purging . . . again

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wahoo Thursday! Silly Animal Edition

Well, shucks. I managed to fix up a few photos for today's Silly Animal Wahoos, but then lolcats began to have problems and I've been unable to finish. So, you get a mere three with captions and one without. I hope you like this little bit of animal fun. The top three were taken at the Jackson Zoo on Saturday (that's some kind of primate's hand, in the second photo, but I was zoned in on photographing and didn't think to see what kind) and the final photo is our Miss Spooky.

Uncaptioned, but I was going to have him say, "Have Snack, Will Pose":

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quick note: Wahoos delayed

Because today is a book tour day, I don't want to obscure my post on the tour book. So, the wahoos will be delayed by one day. I'm going to wahoo, though. You can count on it.

For those of us who are becoming blind as bats, sorry about the tiny lettering on that photo. It says, "Wahoos are yummy." Silly kitty. Look in my sidebar to see her looking at me like I'm interrupting the nap time.

Right now, I have to go take my overdue books back to the library. Oops! Naughty, forgetful Bookfool! Come back and Wahoo! with me, tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Brothers: One North, One South by David

Two Brothers: One North, One South
By David H. Jones
Copyright 2008
Staghorn Press - Historical Fiction
317 pages, incl. appendix
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? I was offered the opportunity to read it for a book tour and jumped at the chance, due to my newfound interest in the Civil War.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Two Brothers is a fictional story based on the lives of real characters. The emphasis is on the story of William and Clifton Prentiss from Maryland, who ended up on opposing sides of the Civil War -- William a Confederate and Clifton an officer for the Union. Walt Whitman befriended the mortally injured William as he lay dying in the same hospital where brother Clifton's wounds were being tended. After William's death, the elder Prentiss brothers join Walt Whitman at Clifton's bedside as Whitman describes the tales William shared during his dying days. Interspersed within the narration of William's experiences are the stories of several women who worked tirelessly to help supply the Maryland Battalion of Confederates with arms, uniforms, flags, mail from home and other essentials, often risking their own lives in the process.

What did you like most about the book? As in the case of any historical fiction, I enjoyed the learning process. There are many, many details about the Civil War to absorb and I've only recently come to understand why people dedicate decades to the study of the war and its players. I particularly enjoyed finding out that Maryland was a state with divided loyalties -- occupied by the Union but with many citizens who had ties to Virginia and thought of themselves as Southern. For some reason, I've always thought of Maryland as patently northern. Probably because it looks like it's way up on the map, from my angle (way down here in the Deep South).

Is there anything you didn't like about the book or topic? I found the prose rather heavy; it read more like non-fiction than fiction in that the characters, in their dialogue, spoke as if they were reciting details from a textbook. In particular, each character was at first identified by his or her entire name and title, regardless of how long it was (J.E.B. Stuart, for example as Colonel James Ewell Brown Stuart) and then often still abbreviated with a middle initial. All of the characters knew names, dates, places . . . things I would not presume that everyone could spit out at a dinner party. At one point in time, an important female character was rattling on about certain events and I thought in reality I could imagine someone walking up to her and saying, "Hetty, dear, you're being tiresome."

What did you think of the characters? In spite of their dialogue, I found that I cared about them and particularly enjoyed reading the little stories within their story, details that I presume the author mined from letters, news articles and other historical documents.

Just an aside: My own ancestry includes a set of brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. They lived in Missouri and, if memory serves me, I believe they were twins. Someday, I hope to dig through my mother's geneological treasures to locate the details.

In general: The use of too much historical detail is common amongst less experienced authors and I got the impression that was the problem with this book. I kept muttering, "Back story! Back story!" when it became overwhelming. If you can handle the fact that the characters are rather wooden because of overdone historical detail, it's worth reading for the information. I don't know how it would appear to those who have researched the Civil War and are already familiar with such detail.

Recommended? With reservations. I had difficulty finishing the book because I got bogged down by all those lengthy names and the dry dialogue. I would call it an average read -- not my favorite Civil War read, thus far, but I think it has its merits. There are certainly some exciting moments.

Cover thoughts: Love the cover, with half of a Confederate uniform and half Union. It tells you exactly what the story is about, as does the title. Also, the book is printed on good quality paper and has a nice, shiny cloth cover beneath the jacket -- with silver lettering and two flags on the spine. It's a really pretty book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Adventures of Songha by Linda R. Caterine

The Adventures of Songha, the Amazing Savannah Cat
By Linda R. Caterine
Copyright 2008

Authorhouse - Fiction/Children's
66 pages

6-word review: Great story about an adventurous cat

The Adventures of Songha is the fictionalized story of a real exotic cat, part African Serval and part domestic cat, who is owned by the author. The tale of her adventures is told through the eyes of Songha -- a very smart little animal whose wild nature makes her yearn to run free. After several escapes that are followed by alterations to her home to block off the various escape routes she's located, Songha eventually settles down and becomes an indoor cat. Each adventure gives the reader a good idea of just how intelligent this little half-wild animal is as she knocks out a screen, opens doors and squeezes through small spaces.

This book is geared to a younger crowd, around that age when they're reading chapter books on their own -- also great for reading to younger ones, maybe a chapter or two a day. I think it's a lovely little book, very nicely written. This is the kind of book I would have read repeatedly as a child, in part because many of my favorite books had a cat hero/heroine. There are lovely black and white illustrations inside the book and photos of Songha on the front and back covers. Absolutely a gorgeous little book, terrific for the young cat lover in every family.

Chasing Diana by Jack & Robin Firestone

Chasing Diana by Jack & Robin Firestone
Copyright 2008
Lightning Source Fiction/Screenplay
154 pages

6-word review: Cliched characters, goofy plot, no answers

I've rewritten this first paragraph for clarity. Somehow, I managed to not mention that the Firestones were the only Americans present at Diana's fatal crash site.

I admired Princess Diana, as most folks did, and hoped that I'd learn a bit more about the circumstances of her death by reading this fictional account in the form of a screenplay, written by two Americans who were driven through the Alma Tunnel moments after the crash that killed Diana. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like the book said much of anything besides, perhaps, that the authors were pretty clueless as to what they'd witnessed and didn't have enough material to write a real book. After visiting their website, I'm not so certain about that. It does seem like they have plenty to say and there's a lot of information to be mined.

Because it's written as a screenplay, some people might find the format a little awkward to read. I've read screenplays in the past -- sometimes to compare a screenplay with a novel -- so the form didn't bother me. However, I thought the characters were a little cliched (sorry, don't know how to add an accent) and thinly veiled. The Firestone family becomes the Goodrich family, all of whom have given names that begin with the same first letter as their real-life names. James drinks heavily and pops pills; his brother snorts cocaine and wife Rhonda whines. Their son Ben is just kind of there.

From the authors' website, I learned that they made the Goodrich family deliberately dysfunctional and threw in people with guns to make the story more exciting. But, it didn't work for me. The bad guys were ever-present but inept. The Goodrich family was unlikable. Truly, I just wanted to know what the authors saw and didn't feel like I could honestly tell anyone the answer, after closing the book. One thing I think they did get across nicely was the pressure of being thrust into the spotlight. And, yet, even that was weakened by James' greedy desire for attention. This is one I struggled to finish. The interviews posted at their website are actually far more revealing; it would have been nice if they'd simply written an account of what they saw, what they believed to have occurred and why. Definitely not a Bookfool favorite. If you have reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link. I keep forgetting to do that.

Aha! Got one:

2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews

Up next: A review of The Adventures of Songha, the Amazing Savannah Cat by Linda Caterine

I've been tagged thrice, in the past week, and I'm trying to figure out how to fit those posts in. To the taggers, I thank you and I beg your patience.

I don't do Monday Mailbox posts because I'm not particularly organized (hahaha -- ask my husband if I'm being too kind to myself) but I got a book that has me absolutely drooling, this weekend. Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family is a book I received to review for Estella's Revenge. It is absolutely driving me nuts having that book stare at me. Oh, oh, oh it looks fabulous! I'd never thought of journals in this way, but one of the reviewers in the promotional material that came along with the book called this book an excellent work of "social history". I've never heard that term, but I like it.

Must dash off to fetch the kiddo, again. He's nearly 17, but doesn't particularly like driving to school in the morning if he's tired. Not a problem. It's an excuse to get out. Later, later!

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: mini-review and quotes

Because I loved the book so much I want to own it (like I need more books -- but this one's worth a few rereads) I've decided to share a handful of quotes from An Abundance of Katherines. It's a library check-out, so I don't feel obligated to review this one but it's such a fantastic book that I hate to just skip it entirely. So, before I return the book to the library, a brief descriptive blurb with a few quotes.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is the story of Colin, a child prodigy who desperately wants to turn his prodigious young self into a grown-up genius. Dumped 19 times, each time by yet another girl by the name of Katherine, Colin is fed up and depressed. To cheer him up, Colin's goofy friend Hassan suggests a road trip. During quiet moments, Colin decides to work on a formula that will predict how long a relationship will last by graphing all of his Katherine break-ups. But, in the process he discovers a few surprising realities about the world and both Colin and Hassan learn some life-changing lessons.

I don't feel like I'm describing it well enough, actually. An Abundance of Katherines is hilarious. Okay, so on to the quotes.

Crying adds something: crying is you, plus tears. But the feeling Colin had was some horrible opposite of crying. It was you, minus something. He kept thinking about one word--forever--and felt the burning ache just beneath his rib cage.

It hurt like the worst a**-kicking he'd ever gotten. And he'd gotten plenty.

The moment Colin sat down, Hollis asked Hassan, "Would you like to say grace?"

"Sure thing." Hassan cleared his throat. "Bismallah." Then he picked up his fork.

"That's it?" Hollis wondered.

"That's it. We are terse people. Terse, and also hungry."

Colin had only been in a nursing home once. He and his dad drove to Peoria, Illinois, one weekend when Colin was eleven to visit Colin's great-great-aunt Esther, who was in a coma at the time and therefore not very good company.

Hassan laughed silently, and he seemed so amused by the situation that Colin felt okay laughing, too. "This is some fugging snow globe of a day," Hassan said. And then he raced forward about ten paces, cupped his hands over his mouth, and screamed, "I AM BREAKING UP WITH YOU!" Still, though, a goofy grin was on his face.

I loved this book. The characters are unusually three-dimensional, flawed, sensitive, funny, human -- just wonderful. I can't recommend it enough. Again, not for the pre-teens, but the teenagers and grown-ups who enjoy Young Adult books will love it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption by Robert Fate

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption
By Robert Fate
Copyright 2008
Capital Crime Press - Fiction/Crime
287 pages

"I'm making a pot of coffee," he said, and fired up a Lucky.

I had already gone over to the hook board and gotten some car keys.

My partner was focused. "That's what I hate about travel. You can never get a decent cuppa joe."

The cleaning lady had come while we were gone. She'd left a window cracked and the old floor fan running. As a result, the place was close to odorless. But it hardly mattered. Otis started manufacturing odors as fast as he could.

"It's never about money with us, Mister Millett. However, there is something included in an estate sale that has come to my attention. From the library, a six-volume set on modern architecture. If I show interest, the price will skyrocket."

Sidecar Sanchez had one business: making book, and one passion: architecture.

"Books?" Otis said.

"I've seen them," I said to Otis. "They're at C. Bell's Rare Books. They're first edition, very nice condition."

At that moment I learned what was meant by a pregnant pause. Sidecar, Otis and R.J. all stared at me. I returned the bookie's gaze.

Reggie 'Sidecar' Sanchez's first words to me: "And you would know about this for what reason?"

"She reads everything," Otis said, as a matter of fact.

"Respectfully . . . she can speak for herself," Sidecar said.

Now it was my partner's turn to be ignored.

"Well, I said, "I've grown tired of these hyperbolic paraboloids and worse that are sprouting up all over the place in the name of architecture. It's rather pleasant to see good photography of the important structures. I guess that's the reason."

There was a pause, and then Sidecar smiled, shook his head and spoke to the heavens, "In snakeskin boots, no less."

Buford was trouble looking for someplace to happen.

I could go on quoting all day because, frankly, I loved this book. So, Me and I had a conversation about it.

Me: What's Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption about?

I: Two private investigators -- Otis Millett and Kristin Van Dijk (aka "Baby Shark") -- are sent to fetch the girlfriend of an outlaw named Travis Horner from Oklahoma but end up getting chased by killers throughout southern Oklahoma and northern Texas But why? What is it about Savannah Smike that makes her worth killing everyone around her? Otis and Kristin must untangle the mystery before it's too late.

Me: Why do you express such deliberate and dramatic affection for this book, a crime novel, no less. Aren't you prone to nightmares?

I: Unfair. One-question rule. First answer is that the book had, in my opinion, the feel of a Dashiell Hammett novel and I adore Hammett. The writing is direct and fast-paced, the action perfect and the dialogue believable. Second answer: Yes, I'm prone to nightmares and this is a bloody book. But, it's not gory to the point of nightmares, at least in my opinion. There's never any deliberate focus on the nastiness of the situations. It's mean and tense, but it's not disgusting.

Instead, the story is really about two tough private investigators solving a baffling mystery and forced to defend themselves from some very violent criminals. Both Kristin and Otis are dangerous but tender. Plus, it's not surprising that I loved the setting (mid-Texas to the Texas panhandle and southern Oklahoma) and the fact that the bootlegger and I share a last name. For those who aren't aware, Oklahoma is "home" to the husband and self and we both have relatives in Texas.

Me: This is the third book in a series. Did that cause you any trouble with the reading, since you've missed the first two?

I: Nope. There were moments that Kristin reflected on her past and I knew for sure that I was going to have to go back to read the first two (because I want to, since I enjoyed the book so much . . . not because I needed to fill in the blanks to understand). Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption stands alone well.

Me: What did you think of the characters?

I: The characters are all well-defined. Either you love them or you hate them, and that's how it's meant to be. I liked Kristin and Otis from the get-go.

Me: You forgot to mention the time period. What did you think of the time period and how did it effect the tone of the novel?

I: The story takes place in 1957 -- and Baby Shark and Otis work out of an office in Fort Worth, Texas. I think the time period lends itself well to this kind of story and I think my father-in-law, who lived in Fort Worth during that time, would agree that parts of Fort Worth were pretty rough. It seems like a natural setting for bad guys with guns.

Me: How did you get your mitts on this one?

I: The author sent it to me, at my request. Actually, I thought it was a mistake -- that I had requested a different book. But, I told him I'd be glad to read and review because I read a wide variety.

Me: And, the result was?

I: One of the best reads of 2008. It was gritty, exciting, a terrific way to shake up the reading.

Me: Was there anything at all that you disliked about the book?

I: Can't think of a thing.

Me: To whom would you recommend Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption?

I: Anyone who likes hard-boiled private eye novels, pulp fiction, mystery, action, adventure, Oklahoma and Texas as a setting. It's violent and bloody, but there's only a minor amount of language and a couple of references to sex -- no graphic sex scenes. The author also has a great sense of humor. I keep forgetting to say that.

Me: How many pairs of socks does it take to keep your toes warm when it's 57 degrees outside?

I: Two. I've heard you always ask weird questions toward the end of self-interviews.

Me: It's in my nature. Tell your friends and relatives this series would make a great Christmas gift for the crime-fiction loving people in your life.

I: What Me said.

Me: That just sounds ridiculous.

I: I know. Can I go eat supper, now?

Me: Yes, you may. The interview is over. Have a nice day, everyone!

Too gloomy for wahoos and finished a terrific book

Maybe I'll wahoo on Friday. Or, maybe I'll wait till next week, but I will definitely share some photos with you because it's pretty and photogenic outside, even if I feel like a total gloomy guts. It was fun getting a break from our piercing sunshine at first, but today is Day 3 of heavy overcast. Here's a shot of the leaves across the street, after yesterday's storm knocked them down. It was really quite lovely, after the storm ended, in spite of heavy cloud cover:

It's very possible that I'll never be able to live in the Pacific Northwest. My pale eyes and fair skin don't like bright sunlight, but I can't seem to function without it, after a few days. This next one looks like leaves in a river, but no . . . sadly, it's our back porch after the rain. You can see we had a pretty good downpour.

Down the street, a neighborhood dog (a very nice little guy; he's all over the place -- we have no leash laws, here) took advantage of an overturned trashcan and had a little feast along with some shredding fun:


I just finished reading Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption by Robert Fate and it is just the most ridiculously fun book. Look for a very positive review of this one, hopefully by tomorrow. It's a crime novel with two private investigators -- Otis and Kristin (aka "Baby Shark") -- who are sent to fetch the girlfriend of an outlaw named Travis Horner from Oklahoma but end up getting chased by killers throughout southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.

Those of you who know me well are probably laughing about the name Travis Horner combined with Oklahoma. No, no, no relation!! He's a baaaaaad man. He is also fictional . . . and thank goodness for that.

I'm going to keep reading and re-reading Grit for the Oyster, for a while, so don't be surprised if it stays in my sidebar for weeks, possibly months. I wasn't kidding when I said it's uplifting. It just can't make the clouds go away. But, hey, it has a sunny cover. Maybe I should meditate on that cover, this afternoon.

Next up will be Two Brothers: One North, One South. I'm scheduled to review that one for a book tour, next week, and since it's a Civil War book I'm naturally very excited to finally have a reason to crack this one open -- it's been waiting for at least a month. I also plan to read Flight to St. Antony by Tony Blackman, an aviation mystery. I'm not a big mystery reader, but the atypical appeals to me in mysteries and I love all things aviation. Also, the author mentioned that his pilot hero has to ditch his plane in the Atlantic. Well, that did it.

I'm off to pick up kiddo, since it was supposed to rain and I'm over-protective. Normally, the kiddo is driving himself to school, now. Boy, that makes me feel old.

*Update* - I just read the prologue of Flight to St. Antony and I had it wrong. The "hero", aka protagonist, is an aviation expert and insurance investigator who must figure out what went wrong and why the plane had to ditch; few people survive the accident. The prologue describes the preparation and escape from the plane and it is intense. I didn't even notice when the kiddo walked up to the car. Usually, once the bell rings at his school, I can't focus to read with all those laughing teens walking past, if that tells you anything about how gripping that first bit turned out.

Hope everyone is having a terrific day! Happy reading!

Bookfool, who will work really hard on being chipper, next time

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grit For the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Authors
By Fisher, Coty, McDonald and Bloss
Copyright 2008
Vintage Spirit - Non-fiction/Writing/Inspirational
250 pages

You can pretty much tell what this book is about by looking at the title, but there are some distinctions and details worth mentioning. First of all, it's written by Christian authors and their inspiration is based on their individual faiths. If Christianity isn't inspiring to you, then stop right here. But, if it is . . .

Grit for the Oyster is very much like a daily devotional in that it's comprised of short, inspirational stories about writing experiences and lessons learned by published Christian authors, followed by numerous quotes (and occasionally, a Bible verse is incorporated in the text). You could spend months using this book as morning inspiration and then turn around and read it all over, again. It's seriously uplifting.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to keep this particular book review very, very short because we've got a noisy storm knocking down limbs and leaves. So, I'll just wrap up by saying that if you're a Christian who aspires to be a published writer and you need a little bit of nudging or encouragement, I highly recommend this book. At least a few quotes have struck me as so perfect for daily repetition that I'm going to go back to find them, print them out and display them next to the computer.

Now, I have to turn off the computer and duck. It's scary out there!! In case I don't make it back for wahoos, I'll try to post some tomorrow. I'm glad it's raining, even if it's doing so rather violently. We needed a break from our intense sunshine. So, wahoo for that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tuesday Twaddle

This is probably going to sound really ridiculous, but my husband was off work, yesterday, and the kiddo was being a totally homebody, this weekend, so on Monday hubby and I went on a field trip! Yes, baggy old grown-ups are allowed to go on field trips, too. We drove to the Cypress Swamp north (I think) of Jackson, on the Natchez Trace, and then moseyed on over to the reservoir, where we discovered a totally hoopty little wildlife area. Hubby and I just had a blast snapping pictures and enjoying the air. We'll be going back there to play again, in the future.

Reading-wise . . . oh, dear. Unless you're sitting outdoors, it is nearly impossible to read during such amazing weather so I've been a little remiss, only sneaking some reading in at bedtime. Today, rain. But, with the husband home again, I had no play time. Darn.

Sunday evening I spent some time standing around in the kitchen, laminating bookmarks -- always ridiculously fun. And, then I finished reading An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. It's a smart, goofy, quirky, hilarious Young Adult book that I highly recommend (not for the pre-teens, in my humble opinion, due to language and adult situations). I absolutely adored the characters. Naturally, it was a library check-out and did nothing to help me knock down my TBR stacks. Ah, well.

This made me chuckle . . . From a walk-through of the PC game "Emergency":

Critically injured people are easy to recognize. In contrast to those with only slight injuries, they aren't moving.

Hahaha. I love it

Having trouble getting the kids to memorize that boring poetry for English recitations? My kiddo came up with a great plan. He set the words of a poem to the tune of a British drinking song. You should hear a teenager sing, "Beer, beer, beer, tiddly beer, beer, beer . . . Because I would not stop for death, death kindly stopped for meeeeee." It just makes life so much more joyful.

My cat is talking in her sleep. So funny. Which reminds me of last night's dreams. I won't boggle your mind with everything because it was one heck of a wild dream night, but the details that really stand out . . . the umbrella phone and the little transport pod that was shot off of tracks (no wings and the tracks were short) like a bullet. Man, I have fun when I sleep.

Skip this part if you don't like promotional material. Travis Thrasher, author of Christian thriller Isolation will be online to chat about his book on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., EST, here. I haven't read this book, but have a copy coming and am looking forward to reading it. I just hope it doesn't give me nightmares; it sounds kind of scary.

Must go. The husband thinks I'm a bum, already. Happy Tuesday!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word by Tony Simons

The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word
By Tony Simons
Copyright 2008

. . . in 2005 integrity was the single most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Web site, which implies that people are not exactly sure what integrity means. Think about that for a minute: people know integrity is important but they are not sure what it means.

Often people use the word integrity to describe a general quality of acting ethically. Ethics are important, but they are not what this book is about. For the purposes of this book, integrity means the fit between words and actions, as seen by others. It means promise keeping and showing the values you profess.

What led you to pick up this book? It's the word "integrity" that caught both my eye and that of my husband. We both enjoy business books for different reasons, but we're also people who believe that honest communication is crucial in every facet of life -- parenting, marriage, friendship, and work.

Describe the book without giving anything away. The Integrity Dividend is specifically about leading with integrity and how doing so has been proven to have a direct effect on profitability.

But, it goes much further than just describing a tie between the power of keeping one's word as a manager (either as an individual or part of the management team) and the bottom line. It also goes into the difficulties of maintaining integrity -- how easy it is to mislead people and the struggle to regain integrity once it's been lost. The author talks about how to prevent such pitfalls, how being direct and honest effects the overall atmosphere of an organization and how to untangle messes that have already occurred. He discusses both middle and upper management, how middle managers can get stuck looking bad if upper management sends down a directive that creates a moral dilemma and how to potentially handle such directives. And, he goes into the benefits of performance appraisals when they're handled with humor and honesty, how things can go wrong and how to avoid misleading employees if appraisals aren't handled well. He even talks about the fact that "American managers may be particularly susceptible to giving lopsidedly positive feedback."

The Integrity dividend can be seen in hard financial payoffs, but also appears as more loyal and cooperative relationships, a more engaged and directed workforce, and better change implementation.

What did you think of the subject matter and how it was presented? Excellent subject, beautifully presented. I'm a big fan of honesty and integrity in business and I think it's often the lack of integrity in management that creates a hostile work environment, so I love the topic. This particular book has a little bit of a textbook flavor. It took me a while to adjust to the style and some of the terminology that I haven't dealt with in recent years; but it's written with intelligence and clarity. The author throws in a tremendous amount of appropriate examples and stories to help the reader translate principles into reality. Also, each chapter is nicely summarized and closes with questions to consider and principles to act upon, in order to help leaders put the advice in this book into practice.

What did you like most about the book? There's a lot to like about this book. The author is very blunt about the fact that managers and employees are human, and there are inherent flaws in communication between humans. Instead of just tossing out a bunch of key words and catch phrases, he talks about how to be a person employees trust -- how to build credibility -- but he also talks about what can go wrong, how easy it is to confuse employees or lose their trust. You know the dreaded "mission statement" people are often supposed to know by heart but which often is frankly meaningless? He talks about how important it is to make it clear what your goals and values are but keep them simple and memorable: "Promise less, but do it more often." He talks about repetition and how repeating a company's values helps to unify employees and solidify their purpose.

Is there anything you didn't like about the book or topic? It can be a tiny bit dry, at times, but there are so many examples interspersed throughout the book that it never put me to sleep.

In general: An excellent resource for managers at all levels. My husband is also quite enthusiastic about this book. He appreciated the numerous examples and liked the textbook tone of the book and how well the concepts are presented and summarized.

A side thought: As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that these same basic principles about saying what you mean and following through can easily apply to other relationships, particularly parenting. For example, when you set specific guidelines/consequences for a teenager -- to be home by a certain time or complete all his school tasks before playing computer games or watching TV -- and don't follow through by applying the consequences when those rules have been violated, the result is often chaos. Boundaries are important in home life, as they are in the work force. The author talks about how easy and common it is for us to deceive others or make a promise and then not keep it. I think we could all learn a bit from this book, actually, just by taking the basics and applying them to every facet of our lives.

Unusual numerical rating: This book is so nicely written (dry, yes, but clearly laid out and without overlooking the important human factor) that I think it's a rare 5/5. I highly recommend it to managers of all levels.

Cover thoughts: It's hard to see in the image, above, but there's a silver outline of two hands clasped (a hand-shake) on that bright green background. Perfect. A hand-shake implies the giving of your word of honor in agreement for some specific action. That image is definitely indicative of the meaning of this book. Plus, I love the bright green. In general, business books have the worst covers, but the cover of The Integrity Dividend is more appealing than most.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Dharma King by B. J. Stroh

The Dharma King
By B. J. Stroh
Copyright 2008
187 pages

Sam looked down at his watch, which was unconcerned by the obscene time change and events of the day. The hands told him it was almost midnight in Kathmandu. When time is it in California? Sam's mind searched, as if a slight wrist turn and ruminating on base twelve numbers could connect him to a world that ceased to exist the moment he rubbed his sleep-swollen eyes halfway across the world. How quickly the familiar world can slip away into a dark corner.

The Dharma King tells the story of Samuel Falk Simms, Jr. Newly graduated from college and heir to his father's vast financial empire, Sam decides to celebrate his graduation by booking a trip to Kathmandu on impulse. Hung over from a night of partying, he falls asleep on the flight and, upon waking, finds that his seatmate is a Buddhist monk. The monk tells Sam about the search for the new Panchen Lama, a special child whose reincarnated life is crucial to Tibetan Buddhists. The Panchen Lama may be the last hope for Tibetan Buddhism; but, a cruel Chinese Colonel is rushing to find him first -- to kill the child and quench hope for a struggling, occupied nation.

Just off the plane to Kathmandu, Sam finds himself at the heart of the search when he is snatched up by the evil Colonel Zhang and threatened, his bag searched. In a hidden pocket is the map that will lead to the young boy. But, will Sam be able to find him first, or will Colonel Zhang and his vicious friends find the new Panchen Lama and destroy hope for a dying culture?

I absolutely loved this book. It's occasionally a bit horrifying and a tiny bit gruesome, but otherwise a suspenseful and better-than-average thriller, in my humble opinion. Sam is sensitive and caring. He has lived an easy life, for the most part, with one major exception. And, it is that one huge mistake that haunts him and leads him to seek redemption and peace.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the romance. I found Sam's romantic interest a unique character and liked her, at first, but then it seemed like she became a bit of a lifeless platform for Buddhism. Otherwise, a little bit of a sagging middle and then it became exciting, again. The writing isn't perfect. Had someone handed me this manuscript to edit, I would have scratched out that bit about the watch and simply had Sam go from looking at the time (ditch the bit about an inanimate object being unconcerned) to musing about California, for example, but that's just me being picky. I'd choose his writing over Dan Brown, if that means anything to you at all.

Definitely recommended for those looking for a unique thriller and don't mind a tiny bit of preaching about Buddhism. I enjoyed the bits some may consider preachy, actually, because I felt like I learned a bit about the region and the importance of its ancient religion.

Now reading:

The Integrity Dividend by Tony Simons (business) - I'm about halfway through this one and loving it. The author talks about studies that prove managerial integrity increases profitability. Hope to review this one by Sunday.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA) - A great, quirky set of characters, a bit of teenage angst and a road trip. Loads of fun, so far. Also about halfway through this one.

Grit for the Oyster by Various Authors (NF) - Writing advice from published Christian/inspirational authors. I'm about 1/4 of the way through this one. It's packed with uplifting quotes and a nice, quick read, so far.

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption (Mystery) - A nice, gritty crime novel with a recurring P.I. character (I haven't read the others in the series). Just started this one and I can tell it's going to be a great change of pace.

Messy, but true:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wahoo! Wednesday: The Autumn Edition

Before I completely forget, the latest edition of Estella's Revenge is available for your reading pleasure. Do check it out. A month without Estella is like an itch that can't be scratched. Go ahead, scratch away.

And, now (drumroll, please) . . . Wahoo! Wednesday: The Autumn Edition! (photos only)

Happy, happy Wednesday!
Bookfool, enjoying that nice fall air

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz by David Seaman

Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz by David Seaman
Copyright 2008
Sourcebooks - Nonfiction/Business
221 pages, including appendix and index
Author's website

The core ingredients of buzz are easy to grasp: Outrage and great content. People want a killer story they can gossip about with coworkers the next day and get different, passionate opinions; television producers want to be the ones who presented this story to these viewers; and blog editors want the credit for creating the early interest and getting the TV producers interested. This is obviously a huge oversimplification of the buzz ecosystem, and it doesn't always work this way, but you can see the rough outline of the process. You can also see how buzz benefits everyone involved--the person it concerns, the blogs that launch it, and the television shows that capitalize on it.

I think it's possible to be outrageous and still have moral grounding. Without this, people may talk about you, but they won't trust you. And this lack of trust means that nobody really cares about what you have to say. This is the difference between Ann Coulter and someone like Bill Maher. Both of them say shocking things; both of them get a tremendous amount of media attention. But if you look at Maher's comments over the years, they're consistent. They make sense--and they promote certain clearly defined agendas (he hates hypocrisy, conservatives, and the fact that weed is still illegal). Ann Coulter's comments, in aggregate, don't really make sense: She hates whatever will get people talking about her.

This may seem like odd reading material for a person who can't stand the thought of drawing attention to herself, but I have a business degree and the business side of me is absolutely fascinated by marketing--what works, what captures attention, why people sit up and listen or place that item in their carts. And I do believe David Seaman, the man known for his "Free Paris" (as in Paris Hilton) campaign, has a unique take on how to capture attention. He calls it "buzz whoring" or "publicity whoring". The author admits up front that the book has a slightly amoral tone. Yet, he also advocates drawing attention to yourself with integrity and frequently mentions that telling a story that's simply not true will backfire.

If you only get one thing out of this book, other than a finely crafted paperweight, it should be this: Controversy is good.

The quotes above are decent examples of Seaman's writing style: light, fun, intelligent and direct. He throws in a bad word, now and then, but nothing that jars you from the flow of the reading because it's just who he is and you quickly become accustomed to his voice.

I really enjoyed this book and found the author sharply observant and savvy. Excellent reading for those who are interested in publicizing a cause, a book, a blog, or just about anything. There are plenty of excellent examples and lots of links and ideas that can be put to use immediately. Definitely recommended, but be prepared for those little bits of language.

Coming up next: A Wahoo! Wednesday post. Oh, boy! I knew you'd be thrilled. At the moment, though, I have to go pick up the kiddo from school. Later!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

To Catch the Lightning by Alan Cheuse

To Catch the Lightning
by Alan Cheuse
Copyright 2008
Sourcebooks - Fiction/Historical
502 pages

Our mules are laden high with supplies, and the beasts we ride are weighted down with our bodies. The sun is rising up over the eastern walls of this great and glorious declivity, a monument to time so vast that none of us can any more imagine it whole than the mayfly can picture the turning pages of a calendar. Cliff upon cliff leads away in ranks to the north and west, and yet it appears as though no dimension exists but the one in which we're standing. All else around us remains only an arm's length away. This makes me think of the childhood notion that one had only to reach out with a hand to snare a star.

I'm going to have to divert from normal review mode for this one. There's just too much I want to say about it. So, self-interview.

Me: So, tell everyone about the book, without giving anything away.

Myself: That's not a very original interview question.

Me: Complain, complain.

Myself: To Catch the Lightning is historical fiction about the life of Edward Sheriff Curtis, the renowned photographer who made it his mission to capture photographs of Native Americans in every tribe in the United States, to record them before their ancient traditions and costumes disappeared.

Me: The viewpoints are important because my alter ego, I, tells me that you're a little perplexed as to the way this book was written.

Myself: Yes, definitely. There are multiple viewpoints. Rather than having Curtis describe his life in first person or from a more distant perspective, the author chose to show Curtis primarily via the viewpoint of William E. Myers, assistant to Curtis for many years. That's not a bad thing, in and of itself, but the author didn't stick entirely to the thoughts of Myers. Instead, he did what writers refer to as "head-hopping", describing how Curtis thought and felt, as well as Myers' own point of view. Sometimes, head-hopping doesn't bother me a bit, but in this case I thought the author's portrayal of his subject was a bit . . . presumptuous. It grated my nerves in a way that few books of this type do.

Also, there is a second much-used narrator, Jimmy Fly-Wing. Jimmy was a Plains Indian who left his home and family, quickly learned English and became a scholar. Eventually, he crossed paths with the Curtis expedition. He seemed unable to find a place in either his native world or the city life of the modern European transplant.

Occasionally, Edward Curtis' wife, Clara, shares her thoughts.

Before I stomp all over the book, ask me about the good and please remember that I actually enjoyed the book but had a lot of problems with it, as well. So, hang in there.

Me: Will do. Tell us what you loved about the book.

Myself: I really enjoyed learning about the life of Curtis -- how the combination of an expedition to Alaska with some wealthy men in addition to some early experiences photographing Native Americans gave him the idea to capture on film way of life that was quickly disappearing. Also, his struggles to fund his expeditions and the angst of his marital troubles were interesting. Myers appears to have been a brilliant linguist and extremely dedicated to helping Curtis with his fieldwork; I found that I admired him and his efforts. I was also fond of Clara for her strength and business sense, although I thought Cheuse's portrayal of her was quite negative. For one thing, he describes her as not particularly attractive. I've looked her up online and I think she was lovely. Stylistically, sometimes the writing was lyrical and dreamlike.

Me: Sometimes?


Yes, and here is one thing that really, really annoyed me. The author frequently wrote lovely passages that were interrupted by common language -- as in vulgar choice of terminology. I thought his use of the vulgar destroyed the flow and the literary beauty of the book. This isn't a very good example of a nice passage, but this shows you a bit of the common language that intervenes:

I was a middle child, with two ahead of me, tall and strong boys, and two behind me, two, as it happened, mewling and puling girls. My brothers took care of themselves, and I looked forward to the day when I would live that way. The babies below me stayed on the tit and made for worries during the winters when it became difficult for them to eat and breathe.

The use of "on the tit" instead of saying that the children were breast-fed just jerked me right out of the moment. Bodily functions, in general, were described using common terms. I found them intrusive and out of place.

Me: So, what did you think of Cheuse's portrayal of Curtis?

Myself: I'm not trying to be picky, here, but okay . . . I'm a fairly obsessive amateur photographer, so I feel like I have an understanding of the process, the art of composition and the emotions involved in finding the subject matter, setting the scene, or simply capturing a moment. I thought that the meaning and, particularly, the joy involved in the process of photography were completely missing from this book. There's more emphasis on the spirituality of his experiences with Native Americans and the angst of his personal life (money trouble and friction with the wife), as well as the constant travel than of the photography. It also appeared that Cheuse diverted from the true time-line. I could be wrong about that, but in historical fiction I feel very strongly that one should use reality to frame the fiction and it certainly didn't appear that the bare bones were in the right places.

Me: Any other criticisms, She Who Picks Books to Pieces.

Myself: Sigh. Yes, one more. I had a strong feeling that the author intruded and forced his own beliefs on Edward Curtis. That is simply an impression and I could give you some specific examples of why I believe that, but I don't think it's worth going into. My opinion only. Also, I thought Jimmy Fly-Wing's story was just flat weird, even though he serves as an excellent example of the difficulty aboriginal people have in adjusting, when their customs and traditions are swallowed up by new ways and their land is stolen. I thought he treated the natives with empathy and the wife with contempt. Poor Clara had to have been a very strong woman, running the business and rearing children as a single parent most of the time, but she was portrayed as whiny and mean-spirited.

Me: So, would you recommend the book?


Yes, with slight hesitation. In spite of the many negatives mentioned, I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading the book. It's a breezy read, in many ways, and Edward Curtis was such an interesting man that it was really quite enjoyable to learn a bit about him. Aside from the fact that he took photographs of Indians, there wasn't really a thing that I could have told you about Edward S. Curtis before reading the book. To Catch the Lightning piqued my curiosity enough that I'd like to read more about Curtis (and have read a bit online). I've added Anne Makepeace's biography of Curtis, Edward S. Curtis: Coming to Light, to my wish list. I do think the author tried too hard to be stylish and went overboard, to be honest. I'd have liked a more straight-forward writing style.

Me: Do you think you'd read more by the author?


Yes, definitely.

I: Not to intrude or anything, but I think it's rude and bizarre that you never include me in your interviews.

Me: Hey, you were mentioned way back at the beginning.


Don't you mean "I was mentioned"?

I: You guys are losing me.


Someone say this interview is over.

Me, Myself and I

(in chorus): The End.

More weirdness will be available for your reading pleasure in future posts. Hope you had a nice weekend!

Bookfool, who absolutely abhors that Daylight Savings Time "fall back" business. I like longer evenings, thank you very much.